The cost of ‘free’ social media: advertising and data sales

Jan 7, 2023, 9:33 AM UTC
4 mins read
The cost of 'free' social media: advertising and data sales
(Photo by Aman Pal on Unsplash)

Social media websites, such as Facebook (a Meta platform), Twitter, and Instagram, are ubiquitous presence in modern life. These platforms allow users to connect with friends and family, share content, and engage with their favorite brands and celebrities. One of the most appealing aspects of social media is that it is typically free to use – users can create an account and start using the platform without paying any fees. However, as with any business, social media websites need to generate revenue in order to sustain themselves. In this article, we will delve into the reasons why social media websites are free and explore the various ways in which they make money.

Why are social media websites free?

There are a few reasons why social media websites offer their services for free. One reason is that the initial cost of creating and maintaining a social media platform is relatively high. Building the infrastructure and developing the technology to support a social media platform requires a significant investment. By offering their services for free, social media websites are able to attract a large user base more quickly and recoup their initial investments through other means.

Another reason why social media websites are free is that the cost of providing their services is relatively low. Once the initial investment in infrastructure and technology has been made, the cost of maintaining a social media platform is relatively small. This is because the platform relies on users to create and share content, which means that the social media company does not have to pay for the production of this content.

How do social media websites make money?

So, if social media websites are free for users, how do they make money? There are several ways in which social media websites generate revenue.


One of the primary ways in which social media websites make money is through advertising. When you log on to your social media account, you will likely see a number of ads in your feed. These ads are targeted at specific users based on their interests and demographics, and the social media website charges the advertiser a fee for displaying the ad. This is similar to how traditional media, such as television and newspapers, make money through advertising.

Sale of user data

Another way in which social media websites make money is through the sale of user data. When you use a social media platform, you are providing the company with a wealth of information about yourself, including your interests, location, and demographics. This data is valuable to advertisers, who use it to target their ads more effectively. The social media website can then sell this data to advertisers or use it to target ads to its own users.

Sale of additional features or services

In addition to advertising and data sales, social media websites may also generate revenue through the sale of additional features or services. For example, some social media platforms offer paid subscriptions that give users access to additional features or remove ads from the platform. Others may offer paid add-ons, such as custom emojis or themes for users to purchase.


Social media websites are able to generate significant revenue by offering their services for free and monetizing their users through advertising and the sale of data and additional features. While this business model has been successful for many social media platforms, it has also raised concerns about user privacy and the use of personal data. Despite these concerns, it is likely that social media websites will continue to be an important part of our lives, and they will continue to evolve in order to remain financially viable.

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